Part 2 – Expansion in the 1930s and the first diesels

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The new Associated Daimler buses being worked in service enabled overhauls to be commenced on the five AEC Renowns of 1926, although a minor setback was experienced on 2 October 1928 when one of the Deans capsized after being struck with force by a Buick Car at the corner of Doonkuna and Donaldson Streets Braddon. Carrying only three passengers, the Dean swung at right angles before capsizing, breaking all windows. The Buick smashed its radiator and twisted the chassis. By 7 December 1928, the first completely overhauled AEC returned to service. The seats were re-upholstered in leather instead of plush, it was fitted with new sliding windows, its lighting system was improved and the engine had received “close attention”. The other four AECs then followed through the workshops, then situated at Kingston.

A system of weeklies was introduced on 20 August 1928, also a system of lunch hour concession fares. Worthy of note is the fact that school children continued to be carried on school buses for free throughout 1928. On the resumption of school on 28 January 1929 however, the Commission introduced a flat fare of 1d for school children on school buses.

This 1d fare immediately caused uproar. Protesting letters appeared in newspapers, deputations waited on the Chief Commissioner, and the matter finished up in Parliament on the plate of the Minister for Home Affairs whose arbitration the PCC had agreed to accept, and who ultimately decided in favour of the Commission. The Commission, by charging this fare, was accused of negating the principle of “free education” and of penalising the citizenry of Canberra. In the first week of its collection, the 1d school bus fare raised £6.13.10 and in the second week £10.12.11,

A third associated Daimler arrived in June 1929 and a commencement was made on the depot near the Ainslie Terminus, to cater for two buses, to eliminate the need for these buses to turn back to Kingston Depot late at night, empty.

Dodge Charabanc CO6 continued to work the Cotter River School run until June 1929 when it was withdrawn for sale. Remaining unsold, however, it lay in storage until the FCC decided to rebuild it as an “Intercity” type bus, and as such, it took over the old run to the Cotter River in October 1929. In the intervening period, the FCC had invited tenders from private contractors to perform this school service, but had accepted none. The Dodge was finally sold in January 1933.

The Federal Capital Commission was abolished by Government action (following an election) on 30 April 1930, the bus service passing to the control of the Department of Home Affairs. An advisory body was retained to advise on local Canberra matters, and the bus service was naturally one of the concerns of this body, which was partly appointed and partly elected. By this time the roads around the City were mainly formed, but only 4.5 miles, mainly on the bus routes, had been concreted, with all other roads being in some form of inferior construction, with some of very inferior surfacing.

Rearrangements to the service made during this experimental period of control of the Home Affairs Department were a sectionalised system of fares, introduced on 17 November 1930 to replace one North fare and one South fare, then a revised timetable on 13 July 1931 to coincide with the introduction of a five day working week for Canberra public servants. A skeleton experimental service to Duntroon commenced on 18 November 1931, at a period when the Royal Military College, for financial reasons, had been removed from Duntroon to Victoria Barracks in Sydney.

On 12 April 1932, control of the Canberra Bus Service passed to the Department of the Interior, a new department incorporating Home Affairs, Works and Transport. This new department, like the Federal Capital Commission before it, immediately decided that operating a local bus service was no part of its function and called tenders, closing on 14 June 1932 for the operation of the service.

These tenders, as they were invited, placed such restrictions on the prospective operators that no one tendered under the Department’s conditions. Four offers for the purchase of the system were made, but each detailed the applicant’s own conditions. The system, at this time, was losing about £8,000 per year, and a private operator needed either a big subsidy, or a big increase, to operate the service.

Rather than accept a compromise offer, involving it in subsidies, the Department decided to operate the service for a further year, until more Federal departments were transferred to Canberra, bring with them employees to boost the number of bus passengers. In order to cut down the deficit, some economies were affected, one being the elimination of 2 man working on some trips worked by the big buses. The other avenue of economy seemed to be reducing the big repair bills being run up by the Deans and the old AECs – so new buses were sought.

During May 1933, arrangements were made to obtain 3 Commer buses in Sydney, fitted with HX Mackenzie bodies. One had been completed in December 1930 for the Parramatta-Sydney operators, Glenister & Mackenzie (Pageol) Ltd. as the prototype of their new standard bus to replace to Pageols on Parramatta Road. The other two were incomplete, work having stopped on them with Glenister and Mackenzie ceased operation on 31 October 1931 due to State Government legislation eliminating bus services competing with the state’s trains and trams. The completed bus, a 40 seater, was delivered in late May 1933 to Canberra, still in its Glenister & Mackenzie livery of fawn and yellow, and entered Canberra service as CO14, as delivered.

The second Commer, apparently, only needed seats to be completed and entered service in Canberra on 19 June 1933. The only difference to CO14 was that it had 41 seats, covered in leather over soft rubber. It became CO15.

The third Commer was finished off to become to Cotter River school run, and it was delivered in July 1933, becoming CO16.

These buses were full-fronted, with a bulkhead behind the driver, and appealed to the Canberra transport authorities because the English classic had many parts interchangeable with Canberra’s AECs and ADCs. The yellow colour scheme was adopted as Canberra’s own, and a programme of repainting the old buses, except the Deans, was to become the distinctive Canberra one, namely “Biscuit” fawn with yellow waist band.

The population of the Capital Territory in June 1933 had reached 8940, 7321 of whom resided in the City area.

4 AEC buses with Smith and Paddington bodies commenced delivery to Canberra in November 1933, with the fourth arriving in December. These were followed early in the new year by a further three similar buses.

The condition of the older buses by early 1933, was becoming a cause of complaint by the drivers as well as the passengers. Two main complaints were made:
– That cranking the old petrol-engined buses on a cold morning was dangerous as well as inconvenient
– That fumes from the buses were unpleasant and dangerous.

The second of these complaints was highlighted on 8 June 1933 when a driver collapsed at the wheel of Dean CO10 after inhaling the fumes for a complete shift. Luckily he was able to switch the ignition off as he fell, and the bus came to a stop in a paddock at Acton.

CO1 was involved in an accident on 25 August 1933, when the brakes were found to be inoperative as it entered the yard of Telopea Park school just after entering service that afternoon. To avoid a collision with the Cotter River bus, the driver swerved and ran a child down. Evidence was given that the driver had no occasion to use his brakes on the two mile trip from the depot, except for occasional use of the service brake, which on a 1925 AEC is the hand brake. His emergency brake, namely the foot brake, was found to be completely out of action. Maintenance procedures were tightened after this incident.

The 4 Deans were withdrawn from service with the arrival of the last batch of AEC’s and were auctioned off on 29 June 1934.

On 9 May 1934, a new AEC was delivered for tests in traffic. It became CO24 and was fitted with an AEC diesel engine – the first time a diesel engine was used for regular passenger transport in Australia. By February 1935, the department was able to report that the test was ‘highly satisfactory’ after evaluation over 24,000 miles, without mechanical trouble. The fuel cost per gallon was half that of petrol, and the bus gave double the mileage. Savings in operation on the one bus were estimated at £466 per year.

Syd Wood built the bodies on the next batch of Government buses, all AEC Diesels. The first, CO25, was a small four cylinder diesel engined AEC Mercury, with a full fronted body designed to work the Cotter River school route. The short wheelbase enabled it to work around sharp bends on the Cotter Road. It featured seats around the perimeter, collapsible seats in the centre, facing outwards. When the bus door closed, it could only be opened by the driver. It entered service in June 1936.

The other four new buses were half-cab styled Syd Wood bodies on large 6 cylinder AEC chassis. Seating 37, these buses enable the original 5 AEC Renowns to be withdrawn from service, and entering service in September and October 1936. The Renowns, CO1 to CO5, were offered for sale in June 1937.

With the introduction of a new timetable on 10 May 1937, the Ainslie (Northern) Terminus was extended to Cowper Street, North Ainslie. Meanwhile, residential development was opening up the suburbs of Deakin and Griffith, and North Ainslie was taking shape, so a further four Syd Wood bodied AEC Regals joined the fleet in November 1937.

On 29 July 1938, with a Territory population of just over 11,000, the official name “Federal Capital Territory” was altered to the present “Australian Capital Territory”, and arrangements were made to change the symbol on Canberra numberplates to “ACT”. The old “Commonwealth Omnibus” (CO) designation was dropped, and the 1936 and 1937 buses, with five further Syd Wood bodied AEC diesels delivered in November and December 1938, were numbered in the general “Commonwealth” (C.) series, receiving numbers, as shown below, from C.530. These new “Commonwealth” plates carried no State symbol at all, and from 1940 were applied to all Commonwealth owned vehicles scattered around Australia.

The 1938 buses were 39 seaters, and were followed by three similar units in May 1939 and another three early in 1940 as shown below.

C.530 – C.533
COE AEC Regal III Model 0662, Syd Wood bodies bought August 1936, seating 37.

C.534
COE AEC Regal III Model 0662, Syd Wood bodies bought September 1936, seating 37.

C,535 – C.538
COE AEC Regal III Model 0662, Syd Wood bodies bought November 1937, body numbers 716-780 seating 34.

C,539 – C.542
COE AEC Regal III Model 0662, Syd Wood bodies bought October 1938, body numbers 777-780 seating 39.

C,543
COE AEC Regal III Model 0662, Syd Wood bodies bought November 19378, body number 795 seating 39.

C,1901 – C.1903
COE AEC Regal III Model 0662, Syd Wood bodies bought May 1939, body numbers 818-820 seating 39.

C,1945 – C.1947
COE AEC Regal III Model 0662, Syd Wood bodies bought April 1940, body numbers 865-867 seating 39.

With the 1938/9 additions, the 1928/9 AECs were sold to Sydney bus dealers Darby and Perry. Two were then resold to CN Sinclair, the Auburn (Sydney) bus operator, who fitted the bodies to White Chassis, and converted them to full-fronted buses. The resulting buses became Sinclair’s MO480 and MO504. The third AEC was sold by Darby and Perry to Bankstown Operator AJ Clayton, and re-entered service with the original chassis as MO452. This bus was involved in a spectacular two-way smash with Clayton’s MO184 in Marion Street Bankstown on 31 July 1944 and was then written off.

The advent World War Two halted Canberra’s buying of English AEC Chassis, as these were all diverted to wartime use in England. Faced with the need for more buses, as were all other bus operating authorities in the days of petrol rationing, the Canberra management in 1943 secured an allocation from the Department of Import Procurement of a Hercules diesel-powered Ford chassis. Instead of carrying wartime austerity to its extreme in bus body building, as was done in Sydney, Canberra ordered six Syd Wood ‘Austerity’ bodies for its chassis. These bodies were extremely presentable even compared with the official ‘Austerity’ square cornered affair, having round corners, sliding windows and metal exterior panels. The final cost was comparable with the cost of the official design and the bodies were to prove much more durable and in 1948 much more attractive to buyers. The full-fronted Syd Wood bodies were used in Canberra until 1948 before being sold to the following buyers:

C.49128
Received August 1943, sold September 1948 to C Young, Penrith. (MO592)

C.49129
Received January 1944, sold March 1949 to AJ Moore, South Hurstville (MO063)

C.49150
Received May 1944, sold March 1949 to Parramatta-Epping Bus Service (MO678)

C.49151
Received July 1944, sold December 1948 to Parramatta-Epping Bus Service (MO561)

C.49152
Received October 1944, sold December 1948 to Parramatta-Epping Bus Service (MO659)

C.49153
Received November 1944, sold July 1948 to XL Transport Service (MO527).

This difficulty in obtaining suitable bus chassis was to continue after the cessation of the war, and was to have added to it a difficulty in having bus bodies constructed. In 1946, the Canberra bus authorities had ordered eighteen buses for delivery as soon as possible, intending twelve to be replacements and six to be additions to the fleet. By July 1946, one chassis had arrived in Sydney. It was not to appear on Canberra streets as a bus until early October, and the second did not arrive until December.